Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today, we start a new chapter in our yearly pilgrimage, walking in the footsteps of the Master. We’ve had the Epiphany. We’ve been introduced to Jesus, the Son of God, the light of revelation to the nations, the Word of God made flesh. We’re invited to begin our journey with a passage from John’s gospel that broadens the spotlight from Jesus alone to include us: you and me.
Of course, John’s gospel began with a new Genesis. Rather than, “In the beginning, God created…” we have, “In the beginning was the Word.” There is no more significant statement in the entire New Testament–perhaps in the entire Judaeo-Christian Scriptures. In Greek, the term is logos (λογος). In Greek philosophy, the λογος is the principle of know-ability of any thing. It’s that dimension of anything that permits it to be known. For God, Λογος is God’s revelation of himself in human terms. It is that aspect of God which is poured out into God’s creation that allows access to the Creator. In the simplest of terms, to say that Jesus is the Λογος — the Word — means that when we encounter Jesus, we encounter God.
That’s not the end of it. The Greek term, Λογος is being used to translate the Hebrew term dabar (רדב). Dabar can be translated both “word” and “thing.” In the Hebrew mind, to know the word–the name–of something is to know the thing itself. When the book of Genesis has God bringing all the creatures of the earth before the man “to see what he would call them,” it means that God allowed mankind to endow things with their names (their “thing-ness”) and thus control what they would be for us. In other words, to name something is to have control or dominion over it. To give an animal its name was to tame it.
That’s why the revelation of God’s name to Moses on Mount Sinai was so significant. Through Moses, God gave human kind authority to enter into an intimate relationship with the God of history and creation. If we really grasp the implications of this, we’ll see how badly we misunderstand the commandment, “You shall not take the Name of the LORD (היהו – Yahweh) your God in vain.” That means that we are forbidden from trying to use our knowledge of God’s essential Name to try to make God do our bidding. The Name of God is not a magic word that gives us control over our world and our destiny. That’s why the Jewish people never pronounce the Name Yahweh, lest they take it in vain. Instead, they replace the Name with the words, “The LORD” (אדני – Adonai) or “God” (אל – El).
From these perspectives (the logos and the dabar), we find a deeper meaning in today’s readings. In the first reading from the book of Samuel, the prophet is a mere child who does not yet “know” Yahweh. Think about what “knowledge of Yahweh” means in this context. But, more importantly, notice that Yahweh calls Samuel by name. We each have a Name — a logos, a dabar — that’s represented by the name our parents gave us. Like Samuel, God calls you and me by name. God calls us to an intimacy with him where not only are we vulnerable to God, but God has made himself vulnerable to us. God’s call to us by name in the night requires only one thing from us, just as it did for Samuel: we need only say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
This scenario is repeated in today’s gospel (which follows almost immediately after John’s introduction of Jesus as the Logos of God. John the Baptist points to Jesus as the “lamb of God” — the sacrifice of expiation for sin. Remember that John’s baptism was one of repentance. John is proclaiming that Jesus is God’s forgiveness in the flesh. It’s no wonder that two of John’s disciples — Andrew and another, who was probably John the Evangelist himself — left him to find out more about Jesus.
Their question of Jesus is the age-old question of all human kind: “Teacher, where do you stay?” Lord, where can I find you? Where can I go that you will never abandon me?
Jesus’s answer to them and to us is the same: “Come and see.” The Greek text suggests that the two of them spent the night where Jesus was staying. As Samuel who spent the night in the temple without knowing Yahweh until he was called by name, the disciples emerged in the morning to tell Andrew’s brother, Simon, “We have found the Messiah.”
What happens next is what happens to us when God calls us by name, when we open our hearts to hear his voice, when we seek him out where he stays and we spend time with him. As with Simon Peter, he gives us a new Name. God exercises his dominion over us, not to tame us as Adam tamed the animals, but to transform our logos — our very being — into a new creation, a new person. That is so that the Word of God may continue to take flesh and make his dwelling place among us.